5/15/2017 3:34:00 PM Dairying from a retailer's perspective Coborn's teams up with MDA for academy
Lisa Groetsch demonstrates the automatic feed pusher to Cobornís dairy case managers during a tour of Groetsch Dairy May 3 near Albany, Minn. The tour was part of Midwest Dairy Associationís Dairy Academy. PHOTO BY JENNIFER COYNE
Groetsch Dairyís nutritionist, Ron Mehr, explains the rations on the farm and shows dairy case managers the feed bunk, located behind the freestall barn. PHOTO BY JENNIFER COYNE
ALBANY, Minn. - "Are the cows comfortable standing on cement all day? "What happens to the colostrum after a cow gives birth?" Those were among the many questions Steve and Lisa Groetsch received from dairy case managers during a tour of their dairy near Albany, Minn. The Groetsches hosted the grocery store personnel as part of Midwest Dairy Association's Dairy Academy training May 3-4 with Coborn's. Kemp's was also a partner in the academy. "A lot of these people have never been on a farm, but they're selling our products," Stacy Dohle said. "They need to be able to tell the consumer about antibiotic use on the farm, the difference in organic and conventional practices, and other hot topics." Dohle, senior communications manager with Midwest Dairy Association, organized the two-day event, where more than 40 individuals participated from the grocery store's Minnesota, Wisconsin and South Dakota locations. Each day began at the grocery store's corporate office in St. Cloud, Minn., where participants heard from Dr. Lloyd Metzger, South Dakota State University, Dr. Leo Timms, Iowa State University, and Julie Mattson-Ostrow and Beth Bunton, Midwest Dairy Association, on food safety and quality, sustainability and on-farm practices, nutrition, and consumer trends and growing dairy sales. At this time, participants also watched a video tour of a dairy processing plant before taking a bus to the Groetsches' 260-cow dairy. For the past six years, Midwest Dairy Association has coordinated the academies with more than 10 retailers across the Midwest dairy states in an effort to educate dairy case managers how milk is collected, processed and distributed to their stores. "We've had great participation so far and are glad the retailers are on board," Dohle said. The May 3-4 event was Coborn's first time participating in the academy. "There are so many places selling milk and we want to be the experts. We want to be more knowledgeable than just selling the product for $1.99 per half-gallon," Mike Gaetz said. "Guests expect [dairy case managers] to know all about these dairy products, but they don't. This program gives us a good idea of dairy farming and to be able to return to the stores with a knowledgeable background." Gaetz is a lead category manager at Coborn's. Amongst the various learning opportunities presented during the academy, attendees found the farm tour the most valuable experience. The Groetsches milk their herd with four robots and also have an automated calf feeder, in addition to cameras, a feed pusher and other technology advancements that aid in efficient farm management. This was the first academy tour that showcased a robotic farm - allowing attendees to see the different technologies available in the industry. "There are a lot of fun things on this farm," said Shane Erickson, who manages the dairy case at the Marketplace grocery store in St. Croix Falls, Wis. "I'm learning that although it's an automated process, it's still a lot of work." Over the years, the Groetsches have hosted many farm tours, but this one was different. "It can be intimidating giving a tour, and with this audience we weren't sure what to expect," Lisa said. Steve agreed. "I had asked what the biggest concern was at the stores and they said it used to be hormone use in milk, but that's not the case anymore," he said. "They want to know where the milk is coming from and how the animals are cared for." Throughout the farm tour, attendees visited the robotic milking rooms, walked through the freestall barn, spoke with the farm nutritionist, and learned about the Groetsches' calf care program. Attendees questioned the use of sand bedding, how tails were trimmed, and why some cows were rejected when they entered the robotic milking system. "The farm tour was the coolest thing," Gaetz said. "We're finding that more of our guests are in tune with food safety and where their food comes from. This tour showed us how each piece - from the farm to the hauler to the processor - impacts the quality of the product." While the academy was directed towards educating dairy case managers, the Groetsches also found it beneficial for them as dairy producers. As Steve finished chores on the farm before the participants arrived, Lisa attended the morning sessions in St. Cloud. "It was good for me to sit in on the other meetings," Lisa said. "I learned what's all on their minds, like dairy alternatives and how advertising influences the buyer." With the academy completed, the Groetsches gained greater insight into consumers' curiosity and the dairy case managers returned to their stores able to answer those questions that linger with every consumer purchase. For Erickson, who grew up helping on his grandparents' farm, the academy experience will be unforgettable. "Today, consumers don't know enough," he said. "If I can learn a little more about dairy, then I can explain what I've learned to customers."